Ontario gets cold this time of year and within the last couple of days the thermometer has plummeted to a “not-so-enjoyable” level. Over breakfast Paul and I grumbled about the change in temperature and the onset of the inevitable winter that lay ahead.
“Wanna go to Florida?’ Paul asked. I nodded and the next day we jumped in our car and headed South. We drove through the night and 20 hours later arrived at our trailer in Melbourne.
Now, I love the beach but I am not very good at sitting still for long periods of time so as Paul settled in with a book I headed down the beach for a run. I’m not much of a runner but I’ve seen so many people do this “beach-run” thing that I thought I would give it a try…..I had no idea how enjoyable it could be…a little too enjoyable I think, as I didn’t really realize how far I had gotten before I finally turned around.
As I began the long journey back to Paul I slowed to a brisk walk and took some time to absorb the beautiful views and the sound of the birds and the surf.
As I walked I enjoyed watching my footprints disappear behind me as the waves erased my existence from this place. There was something freeing about not leaving a mark here.
It got me thinking about life and how much of a mark I have left so far.
I believe I share a dream with many people. I dream that my life will matter, that I will leave a lasting mark on the world around me. That my existence and the things that I have done will leave the world forever changed for the better. I dream that history will remember me.
So few people ever have this dream fulfilled. What is it that makes them so unique?
Walking the beach and watching my footprints disappear under the force of the waves taught me a few things about this, I think. There were places on this beach where the sand was very hard, in these places walking was easy. I didn’t sink into the sand and there was not much effort required to traverse these areas. However, other places on the beach had soft sand and I would sometimes sink up to my ankles. These spots were much more difficult to cross; much more effort was required to pass through these areas. As the waves rushed up to extinguish the record I had left, I noticed that where my tracks were deep, my imprint lasted a little longer.
It’s funny but as I look back on some of the people who are in our history books today I realize that we only celebrate their accomplishments and therefore, it seems that they lived relatively charmed and easy lives. I now believe that nothing could be further from the truth. It is only in the difficult times when we sink deep into the ground that we make a lasting impression. If we choose to live an easy life, if we avoid trials and challenges, then we skim through life barely making a mark. When we dig in and face adversity and failure head on, when we continue when things are the most difficult – that is when we truly make a difference.
Look deeply into the lives of anyone who has made an impact in history and I do believe you will find this to be true.
At the same time that I was watching my footprints fade and thinking about wanting to find a way to make a lasting impact on the world, I couldn’t help but feel a strange sort of peace watching my life’s path disappear so quickly and so easily. I began to wonder – In the immense vastness of time, how one person could ever do enough to truly be remembered?
I watched a documentary that night called, The Men Who Built America. It was about the great men who advanced America with world-altering accomplishments. Most of these men are household names and I can think of very few people who wouldn’t at least recognize the names if they heard them. John Rockerfeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison. Yet watching this documentary I realized how little I actually knew about these men and what they did.
Andrew Carnegie stood out for me; the great steel man of the 19th Century. I knew nothing about this man other than his name and only because of the hall he built and named after himself in New York City. This man built the St Louis bridge. The longest bridge of its time and the first bridge made of steel. This bridge connected America! It spanned the mighty Mississippi River. For the first time ever there was land travel from sea to shining sea. Due to his innovations and investments into the mass production of steel the first sky scrapers were made thus changing the landscape of cities forever. His accomplishments have profoundly affected my way of life and yet I spend each day completely ignorant of his existence or his accomplishments.
Granted, Carnegie is a bit obscure but everyone knows who Thomas Edison is and what he did. Yes, he invented the lightbulb along with thousands of other things some of which I’m sure you would be surprised to learn came from this one brilliant mind. However, my point here is this: How many times when you turn on your lights do you think of Edison? Does his name ever cross your mind as the miracle of electric light fills your room? I can’t say that I ever do. I can’t say that I have ever flicked a switch and thanked Edison for his tireless efforts to bring this blessing into my life and yet where would my life be without him?
So I guess my question is this…how much of an impact can we really make? Even when we accomplish more than most will we ever be remembered, truly remembered, by many more than those that we have personally touched? I can’t say that I have the answer to this question.
I think that maybe being remembered by history is different than being remembered.
I have struggled to work my mind around these two seemingly opposing lines of thought. On the one hand, I would like to make a difference in this world. I would love to be remembered for something great. I realize that the only way to do so is to run head-long into adversity and challenge, difficulty and moments of failure. On the other hand, I find great peace in the thought of not being remembered at all. Of only being remembered by those who loved me until they are all gone and then simply disappearing off the face of the earth leaving it unscarred by my existence.
I can’t really resign myself to wanting just one or the other but I think I have come to realize that either one would be okay and perhaps not all that different in the end.